Opinion Brief

Can China stop a Korean war?

Several leading U.S. lawmakers have called on China to restrain the increasingly belligerent North Korea. Can China do more than it has?

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula continue to escalate, with North Korea warning of a "brutal military blow" should the joint U.S.-South Korea naval exercises launched on Sunday breach its territorial waters. American lawmakers, meanwhile, are calling on China to bring an end to the standoff by reining in its increasingly belligerent neighbor. China is calling for emergency talks. But could it be doing more? (Watch The Week's Sunday Talk Show Briefing about the Korean conflict)

Beijing has limited options, too: China has its own "tricky balancing act" here, says Chris Buckley in Reuters. It wants to maintain South Korea as a trading partner without "estranging" North Korea, "a long-time ally Beijing sees as a buffer against [the] U.S." That requires "diplomatic whispering, not shouting." If China pushes its "prickly partner" too hard, it might lose whatever moderating influence it has over Kim Jong Il.
"What is China trying to do in the Korea confrontation?"

Talks are the best bet right now: The "only thinkable conclusion" to the current Korean crisis is "talks and more proposed talks, with China playing the role of broker," says Gady Epstein in Forbes. It is annoying that all of Kim's threats "to blow up the neighborhood" end this way, but China won't allow tougher measures that would isolate or starve its neighbor.
"China to Koreas, U.S.: Instead of World War III, let's talk"

Money might force China's hand: Right now, China is putting politics ahead of economics, say Michael Forsythe and Peter S. Green at Bloomberg. And it's alienating its three top trading partners — the U.S., Japan, and South Korea. The financial costs of siding with Kim have already "led some officials in Beijing to push for an overhaul of ties" with its neighbor. Now China has to make a "realistic" assessment of North Korea's value.
"China... risks alienating top trading partners"

It's time for China to get off the fence: The U.S. needs to make China "stand up and be counted on one side or the other," by seeking United Nations authorization for airstrikes on North Korea if it attacks the South again, says Stephen Peter Rosen in The Wall Street Journal. It must also arm itself and its allies to show "that we will fight if we must."
"The emperor's nuclear clothes"

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